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Devils wrap up road trip by challenging Coyotes

by Brian Hunter

DEVILS (20-18-11) at COYOTES (22-16-9)


Last 10: New Jersey 5-2-3; Phoenix 3-6-1

Season series: This is the first of two games between the New Jersey Devils and Phoenix Coyotes, teams that last faced each other on Oct. 27, 2011. Martin Hanzal had the decisive goal in a 5-3 victory for Phoenix at Arena.

Big story: Phoenix enters Saturday ninth in the Western Conference while New Jersey is 10th in the East. Each team is mere points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth, however.

Cory Schneider has started four of the past five games for the Devils, but Martin Brodeur was spectacular Tuesday in beating the Montreal Canadiens. Mike Smith, who has supplanted Brodeur as one of Canada's goalies for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, broke out of a 1-7-3 skid with a shutout against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Devils: A four-game road trip concludes for New Jersey, which didn't practice Friday. The Devils have dropped two of three, yet still enter on a six-game point streak with three wins, an overtime loss and two shootout defeats.

Shootout has eight letters, but it's become the equivalent of a four-letter word around the Devils, who are 0-8 in them this season and have lost an NHL-record 12 in a row after a 2-1 defeat Thursday to the Colorado Avalanche. Coach Peter DeBoer has taken to using three forwards and one defenseman late in overtimes in an attempt to score and avoid the penalty-shot tiebreaker. Reid Boucher is the only Devil to score in 25 attempts this season.

"You can sorta poo-poo the shootout and say, 'Ah, it's just a shootout,' but when you're not getting wins from it and you're leaving points on the table, then it matters," Schneider said in the Newark Star-Ledger.

Coyotes: There's not much debating the fact that Phoenix will need Smith to flash his form of two seasons ago, when the Coyotes went to the Western Conference Final, if they want to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. He hadn't posted a save percentage above .900 in a game since Jan. 2 prior to Thursday, but he made a first-period power-play goal by Antoine Vermette hold up by stopping all 29 shots by the Canucks.

"January's kind of been a tough month for us," Smith said in the Arizona Republic. "So it's important in the second half to turn the gas on, and we've kind of lacked that lately. But it starts with me gaining confidence back from the team and my teammates, coaching staff."

The Coyotes also got an important piece back Thursday as defenseman Zbynek Michalek played 16:02 in his return after missing 13 games with a hip injury.

"He does all the hard things it takes to win games," Smith said. "Other guys see him doing that and want to engage too."

Who's hot: Schneider and Brodeur have combined to give up just seven non-shootout goals in the past six games for the Devils. … Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has two goals and two assists during a four-game point streak.

Injury report: New Jersey forward Damien Brunner (knee) hasn't played since Dec. 20 but is getting closer to a return. Defenseman Peter Harrold (foot) is also sidelined.

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